Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend: Spring 2017 Roadtrip

Lower Antelope Canyon can only be visited with a Navajo guide, you can’t walk through it alone. And we were on a one-hour tour, with 20 other people. That means no stopping, you just walk through this narrow slot canyon for an hour. So I tried not to get too ambitious and just had paper and a couple of pencils in my hand as we walked across what looked like parched, brown, and rocky land.

And then we descended steeply into the slot canyon and everything changed. The lines on the striated rock got more dramatic and twisty and the colors got super-saturated.I tried to capture it all n quick sketches as we walked. It was clear my pencil-setup was not going to work.

When our guide paused briefly to point out a formation that looked like a lion’s head, I pulled out a pen, hoping the line would add the drama I needed to my sketches.

But it just wasn’t enough. So I dragged out my tiny pocket palette, brush and water, and juggled them all as we kept walking through these crazy spaces, trying to capture the unbelievable colors and formations around me.


Antelope Canyon is amazing. Yes, I’d seen photographs of it, but I’d always assumed they looked like they did because they involved a fair amount of post-production magic… not so, the place is truly magical, and the colors are unreal.
I drew page after page, throwing color and line at the page in an attempt to capture the swirling canyon. All the while, I walked the narrow, twisting spaces, trailing the group, trying not to hit my head on an overhang…Maybe all my sketches looked the same and I could have stopped at one, but I didn’t know that, I sketched because it was the only way for me to really see and process the place. To sketch something is to look at it closely, to see every nook and cranny, and register texture and surface. It is like touching every inch of that rock, feeling the graininess and bumps and color, all with your eyes.



And then as suddenly as we descended, we were out of the canyon, back above ground. And it seemed unbelievable that just below this everyday place was that magical one.

Antelope Canyon lies within the Navajo Nation. Just as you cannot help notice how startlingly spectacular the landscape is, there is no way to ignore the poverty and lack of infrastructure here. The former, I knew I’d see. The latter, I was ignorant about, and it truly startled me. I’m looking for a good book about (or set in) the Navajo Nation, one that might shed some light on the people, their history and their current lives. If you know of one you can recommend, leave me a comment.

One last quick stop after Antelope Canyon: Horseshoe Bend, an oxbow lake. I remember this diagram so clearly from my 8th grade geography book (image courtesy of BBC Bitesize Geography) but Ive never seen an oxbow lake before.

Horseshoe Bend didn’t disappoint, it was a textbook oxbow lake, and pretty dramatic when viewed from the edge of the deep canyon it cut.


Other posts from this road trip so far:

  1. Starting at the end in Las Vegas
  2. Zion National Park

Coming up next: The much-quieter magic of Mesa Verde

About Suhita Shirodkar

obsessive-sketcher. graphic designer.
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19 Responses to Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend: Spring 2017 Roadtrip

  1. dinahmow says:

    These sketches are wonderful! Yes, there are times when a camera seems too “artificial” and only water colour can capture the feeling.


  2. Lovely sketches – admirable that you can draw as you are walking!


  3. Margaret Hunt says:

    Amazing sketches. You did a great job. Love them. You might try the Tony Hillsrman Joe Leaphorn mysteries to get a flavor of the Navajos. Wonderful mysteries set there. Very evocative of the area and their problems. Bytw where I live on the Savannah river there near Augusta Ga there are five oxbow lakes that were also used as rice paddies back in plantation days. Where I live was actually built up between the river and the oxbows. Once an island now connected to the land. Also a swamp. 🤗


  4. Mary Gomberg says:

    Let me second the suggestion of the Tony Hillerman mysteries. They are as much about the Navajo and Pueblo peoples as they are about the mystery plot. I believe Hillerman was honored by the Navajo Nation for his writings. They really give the flavor of the beautiful Southwestern landscape and peoples.


  5. Lisa Blaylock says:

    Hi Suhita, Where can I find a list of the paints you have in your palette.

    lisa On Apr 18, 2017 11:02 PM, “Sketch Away: Travels with my sketchbook” wrote:

    Suhita Shirodkar posted: “Lower Antelope Canyon can only be visited with a Navajo guide, you can’t walk through it alone. And we were on a one-hour tour, with 20 other people. That means no stopping, you just walk through this narrow slot canyon for an hour. So I tried not to get “


  6. Great sketches, I have never been, but we are doing a show in Utah in aug…maybe we will visit..long way to go but totally looks worth it! Thanks for your energetic posts!


    • Alison Campbell says:

      Southern Utah in August is very hot and dry. Be prepared with lots of water and hike very early in the day. I used to live in the area and unprepared visitors really gave the search and rescue teams a lot of extra work.


  7. Lynn says:

    Suhita – I can recommend the Tony Hillerman mystery series, all set with in the Navajo land and the central and secondary characters are all Navajo. The author wrote these for years and was honored by the Reservation as a true friend so you are seeing the people as they saw themselves. both good and bad, and their relations with the contemporary world. The landscape features as a prominent character in all which I can attest to as my brother lives in Albuquerque and I have made many spectacular trips throughout the area with him.


  8. Rita Cleary says:

    Thanks for inviting others to recommend books/info relating to the Navajo Nation. I have a great interest in the Native American culture, and really enjoyed your sketches of that area. I must say, you DO get out and about often to so many interesting places, and of course, always with sketching and painting materials in your hand. Inspiring!


  9. Alison Campbell says:

    Beautiful sketches. I also recommend the Tony Hillerman mysteries.


    • Alison Campbell says:

      I worked on the Ute reservation in Eastern Utah for a little while. It isn’t as remote, but has a lot of the same problems.


  10. Andrea R Huelsenbeck says:

    I LOVE that you continued to sketch while you were walking with the tour group. You are relentless. What an artist’s heart you have.


  11. I am loving every bit of your Southwest trip. Can’t believe you did the tour while sketching. That rock is hard enough to paint while you are sitting still. So many colours and lines but, wow, you captured it so beautifully.


  12. Kirk says:

    Loved the feeling of place evoked by your watercolor sketches.


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